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Old Buddhist Shrine with Carved Peacock
Item No. 11190

Early 20th Century, Buddhist, Burma
Lacquer over Wood with Gilt and Inset Glass
26" x 19" x 11.25"
( 66.04 x 48.26 x 28.575 cm)
(H x W x D)

Almost all Buddhist homes in Burma contain a hpaya-zin, a small, box-like home shrine placed on the eastern wall of the house. These shrines house an image of the Buddha before which members of the household perform their daily devotions. The Buddha image is often set on a small throne that resembles that of former Burmese royalty. Other shrines may resemble miniature pavilions complete with towering roofs.

Most shrines, such as this one, are made of thickly lacquered and gilded wood and contain a mirror in the interior. In traditional Burmese style, they are decorated with inset mirrors and “jewels” which are pieces of cut glass.

Since these shrines play such an important role in the daily lives of the Burmese, they are often elaborately conceived and fashioned. Most are set up on carved and decorated legs and have glass panels on the front and sides to allow viewing of the Buddha. The most common decorative motifs include leaves, floral designs and often animals such as peacocks, nagas and lions. This shrine was created with an elaborate base containing a drawer, curved legs with decorative elements and covered all over with gilt and inset glass “jewels.” On the top are two divas, Burmese angel like figures, surrounding a peacock all set above the central section with green glass insets and carved glass throughout.

The peacock is important in Burmese culture. It was the emblem of the Konbaung Dynasty (1845-1941),the last Burmese dynasty, and it symbolized the belief that the monarchy descended from the sun. In the Buddhist Jataka, the peacock is the shape under which the Bodhisattva teaches renunciation of worldly attachments. A peacock with outspread tail feathers was a prevalent motif over entrances of religious and government buildings. In esoteric Buddhism the peacock symbolizes wholeness, since it combines all colors when it spreads out its tail in a fan. It exhibits the short-lived nature of all things, since its forms appear and vanish as swiftly as the peacock displays and furls its tail.

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